Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

October 17, 2012

Allen plans to focus on energy resources

BLUEFIELD — George Allen still wears his cowboy boots, but the self-confident swagger that made him a lightening rod for controversy during three decades of public life appears to have mellowed considerably. Six years ago, Allen’s derogatory remark to a campaign worker for U.S. Senator Jim Webb, D-Va., cost him a seemingly insurmountable lead and likely contributed to the loss of his U.S. Senate seat. Controversy has followed him through three full decades in public life, but so too, has success. After receiving an unfriendly welcome to the Democratic Party-dominated Virginia General Assembly in 1994.

Then Virginia Gov. Allen made good on his campaign promise to get tough on crime by abolishing parole in the Commonwealth. Crime rates dropped, and Allen’s path proved the right choice over his Democrat challenger Mary Sue Terry, whose gun control message didn’t jell with Virginia voters. Allen gained bipartisan support for his Welfare reform initiative during his second year in office, and that initiative put the Old Dominion at the head of the curve nationally in terms of Welfare reform. Allen helped coal mine operators in 1995 by providing tax credits for operators who mine Virginia thin coal seams, and while in 1996, it was State Senator Jack Reasor and Delegate Jackie Stump — both Democrats — who ushered in Virginias sweeping Mine Safety Act, Allen welcomed Southwest Virginia into his office when he signed the bill into office.

But that was then, and this is now. Fast forward ahead to 2012, with Webb no longer in the picture and Allen, 60, locked in a tight race with Timothy Kaine, the former National Democratic Party chair, and like Allen, a former Virginia governor.

“The reason I’m running is that I want to change the direction of this country,” Allen said. “There are so many things that need to be changed.” He said that the nation is blessed with the most abundant energy resources in the world. “I am a friend of coal.” He added that he would be in favor of off-shore oil exploration along with developing all of the state’s energy resources. “Coal mining means jobs,” he said.

On a question about apparent voter anger, nationally, statewide and in Southwest Virginia, Allen credited some of that anger to “the passage of laws that people aren’t for,” but he added that in Southwest Virginia, “the assault on coal,” has people concerned. “When I was in Dickenson County earlier today, an official there said that Southwest Virginia lives or dies on the outcome of this election. More than just coal mining jobs depend on coal in this region.

“Here’s what needs to be done,” he said, laying out his plan to address the senate stalemate and get congress moving again. “Find someone who agrees with you on some point. The Democrats will have some senators who are pro coal. I think we can put a team together on that issue — a good team.”

He said during his previous term in the Senate (2001-’07) he worked on key issues where he could gain the support of allies on the other side of the aisle who might have dramatically different political viewpoints, but that might share similar views on those issues. By approaching problems that way, he was able to work with colleagues that included U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and former U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. “Let’s start creating jobs,” Allen said. Among other accomplishments, Allen was successful in gaining bipartisan support in the Senate for Norfolk Southern’s Heartland Corridor, and got federal dollars to help NS expand tunnels through the region to allow for double-stacked freight trains to move through the coalfields.

Allen said that he voted for the Bush era tax cuts out of necessity following the 9/11 attacks on the nation, but if re-elected he would aim a little higher. “My ultimate goal is to reform the tax code,” he said. He said that his: “Blueprint for America’s Comeback” outlines his plan to get the nation back on the right track. “I’ve never been an advocate of raising taxes,” he said.

He underscored his long-running commitment to Southwest Virginia, and spoke about the state’s mineral assets. He said that in Southwest Virginia, “coal mining has a major impact on the community. Here, coal is considered a tremendous asset and a blessing.” He said that in recent years, North Dakota has become one of the fastest growing states in the U.S. because it embraces the development of its natural resources. “Here in Southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia, coal is a lifeline to the community.”

Coal wasn’t the only thing in the region that Allen focused on. He was governor when the Appalachian School of Law was founded, was appointed to the school’s board of trustees at that time, and continues to serve on that board. He said he was also happy to put on a football helmet and pose for a photo as Bluefield College resumed fielding a football team after folding its team during World War II. “Bluefield College is a great asset for this entire region,” he said.

Along with the persistent unemployment problem in Virginia and the U.S., Allen spoke about the under-employment problem. He said that his daughter recently graduated from James Madison University, and when she couldn’t find a job, she moved back home. “There’s nothing wrong with that, and she eventually got a job in her field, but so many of her friends who are bright and have degrees from great colleges and universities, are having to settle for jobs waiting tables.

“There’s nothing wrong with waiting tables. It’s honest work,” he said. “But some of these kids might have been further along if they entered the workforce straight out of high school, and worked their way up to management positions, rather than finishing college and starting off in an entry level position.”

His editorial board visit came after Allen toured the coalfields. He said he was moved by the story that a Buchanan County, Va., father and son told him when he was in Grundy, Va., about both of them being cut off from the same mine. “I asked them all to come up and tell me their stories,” he said. “It’s not my election. It’s there election.

“Tim (Kaine) can say what he wants to say,” Allen said. “He’s for cap and trade.” He said that the Dominion Power plant in St. Paul couldn’t be built with the regulations in place today. “These regulations ought to stop,” he said. “The EPA regulations will outlaw coal.” He expressed his dismay with the “un-elected” political people who are determining the direction of the coal industry, and he provided his viewpoints on climate change.

“Climate has always changed,” he said. “The reason there is coal here and coal in the Powder River Basin is because these areas were once tropical areas with rich vegetation. Glaciers swept down from the north pole and covered much of northern North America. The question is not whether there is climate change. The question is what is the impact of human activity on climate change. When you ask that question, you get various answers.”

Allen said that he agrees that nitrous oxide is dangerous and needs to be controlled, but he added that clean coal technology can clean up 99 percent of that from smokestacks. He said that carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas, comes from people, animals and plant life, and said 96 percent is naturally occurring. He said that the regulations are putting coal miners out of work.

“This is a debatable point,” Allen said. He said that the question was posed to Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, that if all the cap and trade regulations were put into effect, would it have an impact on carbon dioxide levels. “She said ‘No,’” Allen said.

“Why would we want to put all of these people out of work?” Allen said. “If they’re out of work, they’re not paying taxes. That is not the solution. The folks who are hurt the most are the lower and middle income families. Those are the folks who are hurt by this.”

Allen said that he doesn’t think that Congress needs to have earmarks. “Federal government needs to get its house in order,” he said. “I voted against the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ in Alaska, and I got in trouble with the Republicans because it was a Republican project.” He restated his support for a line-item veto component in the executive branch of government. “Let’s get to a balanced budget and then we’ll talk,” he said. During his time as governor, Allen said he was pleased with his efforts to bring potable water to rural areas of the state. “We had a drought one year, and we had to bring those water buffalos out to rural areas,” Allen said of the water tanks the state deployed to address a severe drought. “I’ll never get that out of my mind.” He said that federal funding played a huge role in that effort. “To me, that’s not an earmark. That’s for helping people,” he said.

Allen said if he is elected, he would vote to repeal Obamacare. While he said that the health care situation in the United States needs to be addressed, he favors health savings accounts where individuals have ownership of their policies, high deductibles, but affordable rates.

“The best social program of all is a job,” Allen said. In addition, he added that the federal government should not raid Social Security and Medicare programs to pay for Obamacare. “Working people and their employers have already paid into it. There should be no changes to Social Security.” He said that Social Security is a good example of how much jobs matter. “The economy is bad, and there are fewer people working,” resulting in future shortfalls for those programs.

“Energy will be my primary focus in the Senate,” Allen said. “If we use our American energy resources, we will create jobs in this country,” he said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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